Ep.114: Mike Henry on how to run sketching groups

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Feb 16, 2018 •  Interviews

Hey, guys! In this episode, I am chatting with Mike Henry, a concept artist and art director, working at BigPoint. Most of his career, he has worked in the gaming industry with studios like Zynga, Blizzard Activision, Booyah, Disney Mobile, Ubisoft.

Get in touch with Mike

Key Takeaways

“When it comes to creative life, just be open to everything! Inspiration can strike anywhere!”

Resources mentioned

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Special thanks to Mike for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Mike Henry, used with permission

Episode Transcript

Announcer

Creative, artistic, happy! That’s you. There are endless possibilities for living a creative life. So let’s inspire each other. Art Side of Life interviews with Iva.

Iva Mikles

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the next episode of Art Side of Life where I chat with inspiring artists five days a week. My name is Iva, and my guest today is Mike Henry. And in this episode, you will learn about some cool tips how to start and run your sketching group and how to design great characters.

Mike Henry

When I’m designing characters. I’m always looking, I guess the easiest way to answer it is also the sort of like a broad technique which is, I always look for like 70% borrowed 30% New where it’s like I want the characters that I’m drawing like literally all of them even the weirder characters to be 70% familiar qualities that people are used to in the archetypes that I’m having to draw, and 30% trying to mix it up in some way.

Iva Mikles

Mike is a concept artist and art director currently working at big point video game studio in Germany. Most of his career he has worked in gaming industry with studios like Zynga Blizzard, Activision, booya, Disney mobile, Ubisoft, and company companies like Hasbro, Mattel, NCAA and NBA. So please welcome Mike Henry. And let’s get to the interview. So welcome everyone to the new episode of Art Side of Life. And I’m super happy to have Mike here. Hi. Hello. So happy to have you here. And yeah, so let’s start right away with your background. And maybe you can tell us a bit more about the biggest turning points you had to go through in order to get where you are now.

Mike Henry

Sure. Yeah, I can just how far back Are we starting here? How far would it be

Iva Mikles

when you decided first time like okay, I want to take art professionally.

Mike Henry

Okay, um, I was actually super young. When I decided that I was in like first grade. I it was because of Ninja Turtles. Mostly I was born in 1982. So I’m like 80s 90s baby. So it’s like Ninja Turtles and like all this stuff that sort of comes with that transformers and everything else. So I when I was in first grade, I used to draw ninja turtles all the time. And that was essentially when I was like, Okay, I don’t know, I don’t know what the job is. But I know that it’s this that I need to do, you know, like that type of a thing. So so then I would say that I did professional want to be a professional artists the entire time all the way through high school, I didn’t take school very seriously because I knew that I sort of just wanted to do art and that it wasn’t really going to matter that much. And then I went to art college, I went to the Illinois Institute of Art outside of Chicago. And then out of there got an internship, which then led to me moving and stuff like that to California. So and that’s sort of where like my career really, like started to happen was when I moved to San Francisco.

Iva Mikles

Oh, nice. So if you can mention maybe where you grew up, or how was kind of your childhood, was it really artsy? Did you kind of always knew like, Okay, I want to really do the creative stuff, as he mentioned, like, Okay, I really decided already then. Did you like draw on walls when you were a child and all of that? Yeah,

Mike Henry

I don’t know. If I drew on walls, I sort of always was very like, regimented. Like I wanted it on paper, so I could take it places and do that type of thing. I grew up in outside of Chicago in actually a town called Sleepy Hollow. It’s not the same Sleepy Hollow from the legend. That’s

Iva Mikles

cool. Yeah,

Mike Henry

I know, right? We still did all the Headless Horseman stuff, but it was just we were just fronting, and it wasn’t actually us. And so I the the as far as being creative, I was always creative, but it was creative towards like TV, animation movies, like when I was little, I didn’t want to be that sort of exploratory artist, I wanted to like I wanted to draw the Ninja Turtles, I wanted to draw things like that, because I wanted to make something like that someday. So without knowing it, I just sort of was always geared towards being a commercial artist, or a concept artist or a visit of artists, something like that. Because when I was a kid all the way up through high school and even college, all I would do is I would essentially build pitch packs. Like I didn’t realize that’s what they were, but it was, you know, draw the main cast, write some story about it, draw some backgrounds, and then just sort of staple it all together and put it somewhere and then move on to the next one. That’s sort of like what I always did. And then that’s sort of where I just ended up then in my career was doing that kind of stuff.

Iva Mikles

So how was the first move then to California? How was it? The networking? You know, what did you have to do? Like, was it through school or did you already started social media like back then and maybe you can take us through how you made new friends or contacts basically? Sure. Yeah.

Mike Henry

Yeah. I mean, as far as social media goes, that was in like 2005. So social media really didn’t get to where it is like now, I had a DeviantArt account, which I sort of I started one when I was in college, I think it was when I was in college, and but then I didn’t really do anything with it. And then when I got out, I started fostering more. And then when I went to a, I went to a wedding, my girlfriend at the time, who’s my current wife, her, I went to a wedding for somebody in her family and met her cousin. And he lived in San Francisco, and he doesn’t work in entertainment, but he had a lot of friends in entertainment. And he was like, What are you doing in Chicago, like, you have to come out to the West Coast and start finding a real career, you know. And so we went out and visited him. And then six months later, we had pooled enough money to just sort of go out there. So my girlfriend and I packed up two suitcases and got on a plane and just went out there. And it started really nice with him introducing me to a couple of people. But like, you know, no matter how willing some people are to give work, there has to be work. And so there wasn’t any right away. So my wife got a job. Well, like I said, then girlfriend, she got a job doing some stuff just to start paying the bills. And I started applying to a few companies. And I ultimately ended up getting reached back by John Romero, who was one of the creator of doom amongst you know, him with John Carmack and a couple of other people. He had a new company at the time, and he liked my art. And I had submitted an application and he reached back to me, and I would say, within three months or so I was working at that job. So it was very quick. I didn’t have to do much networking. But then of course, from there on, it’s like constant networking after that. Yeah.

Iva Mikles

So how long was it before you start working? And when you move then? So was it only that your wife was working at the time? And then you were like working on your portfolio? And, like, yeah, how many emails did you send? Do you remember? Like, the quantity versus like, Okay, what finally someone gets back?

Mike Henry

Yeah, I think that, it probably I probably didn’t send out as many as I should have, if I really wanted to have like a good shotgun, you know, attempt at getting a job, I probably applied to maybe 15 or 20, places in like three months. And at the time, I also had a job at borders, the bookstore chain in the States. And I was just working security there. And I actually even got the call to work at that first company while I was on the job. So I just like walked out of the building and took the call and then walk back in and quit is kind of awesome. But the so so yeah, I mean, I just applied to a bunch of places. And I’ve always been somebody who just really likes to always work on art and posted somewhere. And I think, I think that was something that helped me there. Because at the time, John Romero, who was the one who first responded to me, he was seeing me post things like every day and seeing what I was producing every day. Even if I worked, I’d go home and then obviously draw all night and stuff. So So yeah, that’s that’s sort of how that went down. So I applied to a lot of places. Yeah. And

Iva Mikles

then you you through every day, right?

Mike Henry

Yeah, that’s the most important thing. Yeah. So be constantly drawing. Yeah.

Iva Mikles

And at the time you already did you ever do like the traditional traditionally, because right now you have a lot of procreate stuff. Right? And do you also work with Photoshop and tablet? Or do you kind of combine it all of these techniques?

Mike Henry

Yeah. So for the longest time, I was very traditional. When I was in college, even I was like, afraid of Photoshop, I it seemed really daunting. So I use flash to color a lot of my stuff on. Yeah, it was really, it was really kind of weird when I look back on it now, but it was just comfortable, you know. So I used to do a lot of traditional and then when I started working professionally, it was a lot of traditional that then was getting scanned in and then I’ve worked with it in Photoshop. And I started a sketch group in San Francisco called sketch balm. And that was like all traditional is just so you know, a lot of working professionals could just keep those skills going as well as we also had other people who were just starting in their career showing up to that, that was really fun. But that was all traditional. And I really didn’t go like 100% Digital until the iPad Pro and procreate, because it’s just so much easier to have that one thing with me all the time. And I can do like a full workflow, you know, so, but when I’m at work, I work in Photoshop on a Cintiq and sometimes also on the iPad, and then all the stuff that I post now online, it’s all on the iPad.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, nice. And so do you have a preference? Which one is better? The procreate or Cintiq? Or is better for something else?

Mike Henry

Well, yeah, I mean, some some of it is the hardware, but a lot of it’s also the software so like, excuse me, the the, the iPad Pro is way better than the Cintiq as far as responsiveness and just natural feeling and all that type of stuff. But then when it comes to like Photoshop and procreate, there’s sort of two different tools that do two different things. If you’re doing a lot of ideation and just illustration work and all that procreate can totally stand up to Photoshop but when I’m working on like really big ideation, things at work or more Working on like user interface stuff, I have a lot of like smart objects with like sub embedded Smart Objects and that type of stuff. Just it requires a computer with a lot of processing power and all that and the iPad Pro and procreate. I just don’t think they’re going for that right now. I hope that they sometimes get to that you know, but so yeah, there’s sort of two different tools that overlap and ways but do two different things.

Iva Mikles

Yeah. Because now you also have like variety of brushes for Photoshop where like procreate is still limited. Or maybe there are like a lot of them but you can find a lot of free brushes as well online. And so there is less to choose, I mean, more to choose from and less on procreate, right? Do you have your own brushes for procreate? Did you create it yours, or did you get them from somewhere,

Mike Henry

so I don’t create brushes for procreate. There’s plenty of people who do but I’m actually kind of minimalist when it comes to the tool set. Like when I worked traditionally, I just use like a pencil and a ballpoint pen. And when I work in procreate or Photoshop, I just use what’s given to me there, because I sort of never want to be in that scenario where I can’t do something because I don’t have access to that brush right now. Like if I sit down at somebody’s desk to do like a red line or to do some sort of a paint over and they don’t have a brush that I rely on, I kind of don’t want to put myself in that position. So I’ll create my own brush. If I have to do like a bunch of trees in the distance. I’ll create like a tree brush to like get that done real quick or something. But like on procreate, I talked about it on my YouTube channel a lot. I have a brush that I call the fat pencil and really I just took the technical pencil from procreate, and I made it so that its max size would be bigger. And that’s like what I use for all my drawing on procreate, basically. Oh, perfect.

Iva Mikles

So everyone in our audience can go check out your YouTube channel, because you have so many demos about procreate, and so they can just see how it’s done.

Mike Henry

Yeah, yeah. And I have a video there where I show how I create the fat pencil tool, because I get that question a lot like, oh, how do you make this? Can you share this brush, but I never share the brush? Because it’s easier to just go in and tweak like one setting then for me to like, get a brush up online that people can download or whatever. So yeah,

Iva Mikles

yeah, perfect. And you also mentioned that you started this sketchbook group and some people already from the audience, were asking like, Okay, how do you start the like drawing group or sketchbook group? Maybe what do you have to do? And if you learn something from it, like, Okay, what would you do next time better, like organizing this kind of thing? Maybe?

Mike Henry

Yeah, um, I actually don’t know what I would do better. Because I was really proud of what we sort of built in San Francisco and San Francisco. I don’t I don’t control any of it anymore. But there was a time where we had one in North Carolina, we had one in India, we had one in Barcelona, we haven’t like sort of all over, which is really fun. But the thing, I think that, for me, at least just the thing that we did, right that we did the most right is that we made it open to anybody, absolutely anybody and we tried to be very strict about not making people feel like they shouldn’t be allowed to be there, because I’ve actually attended other sketch groups that become pretty elitist pretty quickly. And so me and the other professional artists that were my friends, that would all do sketch bomb, we would deliberately split up and sit around the whole group instead of just like sitting all at one table so that we could talk to other people and try to make people feel more confident about being there and sharing and all that. And then one of the other elements, we haven’t sketch because we always had a bit of a show and telophase, where we would make everybody after each topic, put their books down, and everybody had to walk around and like look at everybody’s so that they could be inspired by some of the really talented people, but then also feel proud about what they did and get feedback from other pros that might have shown up at the sketch bomb so so I actually I don’t know that I would do anything else other than I would just always make sure that I had a core group of pros that could be there that we’re all really positively minded and could help more amateur or newly starting perros sort of like get feedback and exposure.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, because it might be an issue if you’re in a smaller town or somewhere where you don’t know actually other artists and you’re just by yourself and you’re like, Okay, I want to start a sketchbook group or something like these sessions. Would you start maybe with the different topics every time you meet? Or how did you arrange that? Did you do it through like meetup.com or Facebook groups? Or how did you kind

Mike Henry

of Yeah, yeah, we eventually started using Facebook to some degree and Alfonso, the guy who currently runs the one in San Francisco and the one in Oakland, I think he he uses Facebook for this. I’m originally I just did it through Deviant Art. I just posted up like, Hey, guys, I’m going to be at this restaurant drawing, if you want to show up, and then that group just slowly grew and I would always post it there to get people to go out there. Yeah, for small towns. I mean, that’s definitely harder with San Francisco. It’s like even if you just get a few percentage points of artists, you know, you’re gonna have like 20 people, they’re kind of you know, so. So that was that was probably easier. Yeah. But I basically just leverage whatever social media presence I had. And then if I had to other friends that did also that we’re going to go, I would have them post and just sort of do that natural spider webbing type type technique. Yeah,

Iva Mikles

yeah. One more question through that as well. So do you do it like in a cafe or book places in the restaurant or some other? Outside? Maybe?

Mike Henry

Yeah, yeah. And I also didn’t answer another question earlier. So the cafe thing, we found a restaurant pretty early on, that didn’t have too much strict regulation around who was going to hang out there, or how long you could be there. And then eventually, what we started doing was, it wasn’t really mandatory, but we really encourage the people that were coming to at least get like a coffee or some little snack or something so that we weren’t a burden on the place we were at, you know, because very quickly, when you have at our peak, we were having 3540 people show up and a restaurant, it’s a restaurant cafe, they would be like, okay, these people have to be buying something, because they’re taking tables from a lot of people. So that’s sort of one way we tried to smooth that over. Now, the other thing you asked about earlier that I forgot to answer was the topics, we always had 30 to 40 minute sort of topics, and it was roughly a three hour night is what we would do. So we would get through and we just come up with them ahead of time. And we would you know, if the theme can be something really abstract like anger, and everybody had to dry anger, or it could be something really specific, like a superheroes day off, you know, like, whatever was fun, maybe something topical if the new Avengers movie came out or something we’d say like draw something from the Avengers. So we tried to hit as many things as possible. So different artists would find fun things to do.

Iva Mikles

Oh, perfect. And so when you work now, on your project, do you have like a favorite topic to work on? Or maybe you can share some sub tips, which is like good to do and maybe not so great to do when you’re creating characters and cast of characters?

Mike Henry

Yeah, sure. Um, man, that’s really broad. I think that

Iva Mikles

it’s more like the question, how do you throw?

Mike Henry

Yeah, no, I don’t actually no, no, the I think for me, when I’m designing characters, I’m always looking. I guess the easiest way to answer it is also a sort of like a broad technique, which is, I always look for like 70%, borrowed 30% New, where it’s like, I want the characters that I’m drawing like literally all of them, even the weirder characters to be 70 cent 70% familiar qualities that people are used to in the archetypes that I’m having to draw, and 30% trying to mix it up in some way. At least that’s what I go for. So if one of the things is a an orc character, then most people know orcs as being like these green skin, big brute, you know, they’ve got like, probably a black ponytail or something with big teeth. So it’s like, okay, well, that’s probably what most people are going to expect. So I want to do that. But then can I do something really interesting? Can Can the orcs in my story, have four arms instead of two? Or can the orcs in my story, have all those qualities except the green skin and do something different with the green skin? Or can my orcs actually be short and stumpy? But all the other qualities are there in order to try and make it so that people feel like there’s a familiarity they can latch on to but then something new so that they can actually see it from a distance and know that that is that property instead of another property? So I think that when I’m doing my cast, that’s sort of what I’m looking for. I’m leaning on things that I find familiar and that I’m inspired by while trying to mix it up a little bit.

Iva Mikles

Oh, yeah. Have you ever had like a favorite character? Like, this is my baby

Mike Henry

of my own? I probably did when I was in like high school, I think you’re a little bit more precious with your ideas when you’re younger. Because you think like that, you think that the first thing you put to paper is like correct and perfect. And that’s just the way it should be. Yeah, it’s like, this is the guy he’s perfect. I’m not changing him. You know, I only drew him once. And he’s perfect. But the as I got older, I just sort of Yeah, I’m not I’m not that precious about any of my characters. I don’t think I sort of get them done. And then I post them online or something. And then I kind of walk away from them until later, I guess. Yeah, I think when you work in concept art for a long time you get to where you just sort of know that most of what you’re going to do is never going to get released to the public. So you just stop caring. Like, yeah, because I care about the quality, but you don’t get so bummed anymore. It’s like when somebody says like, oh, yeah, that character got cut. You’re just like, Yeah, okay, probably, you know, and then you move on.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, I have also so much stuff I cannot show which you saw, like, so when you are like working now, right is because we didn’t mention that you actually moved from California. And so maybe you can take us through your like a normal day something like okay, so how many hours a day do actually get to draw or like spent with your family and these kind of things like you have a full time job. So like maybe if you have also different incomes, or is it the one main one so kind of like this may be a lot of questions at once. So

Mike Henry

no sure. Yeah, basically, just how’s it all working? Right? Yeah. So yeah, I currently live in Hamburg, Germany. I moved here about a year and a half ago, a little over a year and a half ago. I work at a video game company called big point. where I’m the director of art for new games. So it’s, it doesn’t all the time leave room for a lot of drawing, I have to look over several projects. And I interact with a lot of different art directors and artists and all that, I have to handle strategic decisions. So when you, you know, sometimes it feels like a waste of time. But sometimes it’s necessary to be in a lot of these meetings where you’re having to discuss sort of like future plans and all that. But since I am also still a working artist, I never sort of lost that part of my skill set. It’s kind of nice, because I get to sort of when a project starts something new, I get to actually try to be a part of it in some way. So like, currently, at my job, I actually just relocated my seat by a team, because I thought it’d be fun to be a part of their ideation while they’re trying to find their look and feel and all that so. So I would say, before I did that, my standard day is I wake up in the morning, I tried to get out of the house with the kids sort of clawing at me as I’m going out the door. And then I get to work. And then it’s like, it’s the usual, any, anybody who’s ever been a manager of some sort knows that it’s like, the first hour or two is like clearing males and trying to figure out like, what your schedule looks like for the, for the day, aligning with my peers, like I’m part of a director group. So I have to align with them and figure out what what are we tackling today? What are we tackling this week? And then sometime after lunch, it’s usually trying to spend some time with teams with leaders on the teams trying to figure out how is the project going? Not even just from an art perspective, but just holistically, how is this project going? And then if I can, I tried to squeeze some amount of drawing in there somewhere, even if it’s just doing some feedback on something. That’s what I tried to do at least. But I’m hoping right now, with my new relocation that I just did that. I literally just did that yesterday, I’ll be able to draw a lot more, at least for a short period of time to help them establish Yeah, maybe

Iva Mikles

some boost at the beginning of the project where you can all draw together the ideas and install arms and all of that. Yeah,

Mike Henry

totally. That’s, that’s my happy place. So that’s what I’m trying to do. Yeah,

Iva Mikles

yeah. Perfect. And how was the transition from being an artist? To be like, art director? How did happen? Maybe did you apply for different position? You were like, Okay, this is what I want to do, or it kind of came naturally with, you know, project.

Mike Henry

Yeah, it was, it was actually sort of a very specific sort of turning point, I guess that led to me becoming an art director, I was at a company for almost four years, and then it shut down. And I went freelance. And when I was freelance, it was a lot of ideation and external concept work. But I built a couple of really good relationships during that time, which allowed me to do some external Art Direction work. That was fairly light. I wasn’t managing anybody directly. It was more of like a consultant role. But that ended up getting me a little bit of cachet with a couple of companies, which then led to me actually reaching out to a company that I was already working with and saying, Hey, I’m considering going back in house somewhere. So just let me know if anything comes up. And I got a reply. And they were like, yeah, come come in on Monday, let’s talk and I became our director, about two weeks later, basically, at that company, which was Boo Yan San Francisco, they’re no longer around. But and so that transition then was, it was interesting, because I sort of had accidentally gradually gotten to it. I went from being an individual contributor, a company to an external individual contributor at my my own company that I started. But then as we grew and wanted to take on more stuff, we had some subcontractors and we had to balance some things. So that gave me a little taste of what it was like to do that kind of management. And then when I got the studio art director gig, it was like being thrown in the deep end. But the people that I was working with, they were excellent, awesome artists and awesome people. So they were very supportive of it. And that that transition was pretty good. And so I just leaned on some of my own, I guess, opinions about past managers I’ve had that were really good. And tried to emulate some of what they’d done to try and make that work, basically.

Iva Mikles

Oh, yeah. So what was maybe the best advice you ever received about the you know, your artistic, either journey? Or, you know, just being?

Mike Henry

Yeah, I mean, artistic journey, it’s really hard to say, what the one thing was, I, I when I when I found out you might ask this question, this is like my hardest question to answer I sort of, I never know, because I’ve gotten so much support and so many good people giving me lots of good advice over the years. I think that the best I can do is look back on it retrospectively now, and I think that the best advice I ever got is when you have kids to like slow your career down, because there’s always going to be more time to ramp it back up again, and you’re gonna really regret not spending the time. So it sort of all accidentally happened at the same time, but me coming to Germany where the pace is a little bit slower, and the competition is a little bit lighter. And even though I’m part of the internet competition and the sort of you know, world of art kind of thing. It allows cause you to sort of slow down a bit and focus more on home. And I that’s something I absolutely do not regret. So that one I thought was like a really good bit of advice.

Iva Mikles

Oh, that’s perfect. And when you mentioned Hamburg, have you considered also other European cities? Or it was basically that company you wanted to work for? Because there is a lot of art in Berlin, or I don’t know where? Yeah, well,

Mike Henry

the reason I ended up here is because somebody who I had worked with previously was coming to the company already. And they were in a leadership role. And they essentially wanted me in a spot that they could rely on. So that’s why it was big point in Hamburg. And it just sort of happened. Since being here though, we’ve obviously travelled a lot. Because once you’re sort of central in Europe, you try to go as many places as possible. And so right now I’m stable at my company. So I’m not looking to leave. But as far as just cities that seem awesome. My wife and I are both really interested in like Stockholm and Copenhagen. We really like sort of, like the Scandinavian cities and countries, you know. And so those seem really interesting. I know, there’s lots of gaming in Barcelona, but I don’t like hot weather, so I don’t get it.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, because cold weather Well, yeah. Yeah. Because a lot of people in our audience, they were also considering, you know, like, okay, which might be a good city, if considering art within the Europe if you don’t have to move to us, you know. So that kind of always like this. Sorry, question about that.

Mike Henry

Yeah. And Stockholm, from what I understand. I mean, there’s lots of game companies up there, and the social structure is really nice. So if you’re an artist, a lot of artists also worry about like it. Okay. So coming from the US artists feel very expendable. A lot of the time, you get a lot of closure, like studio closures, as well as just big teams getting laid off. And it can happen very quickly without warning. And there’s a lot of stuff in Europe where that’s protected, or at the very least you get some sort of parachute when something like that happens. And I know that Sweden is very big on that. So I Stockholm is sort of like a pretty sweet spot, because there’s a lot of companies and there’s a lot of safety there. So that’s kind of a good one. Yeah,

Iva Mikles

yeah, definitely. And also, when you were mentioning that you started your own company, that was the freelance where you had the your first like jobs, and when there was like a bigger job coming, then you had to find other people to help you write that. You meant, okay. How did you find the people to work with?

Mike Henry

Well, that was mostly from networking, I mean, we did our best to try and reach out to people that we had already known. The thing is, once you start freelancing a bit, you usually start, I sort of accidentally just meeting other freelancers, especially if you do something like set up a sketch group, because the whole reason I set up sketch bomb in the first place was because I was in my apartment working for companies not really leaving the house that much. And so when you go from being in a big team setting to being in an isolated setting, you start craving being around other people. And so a lot of freelancers, I know they sort of meet on the internet, maybe because they admire each other’s work. Maybe they do a Skype call here or there. And then you start just working with Skype on like eight hours a day talking with people and drawing like all day long. And so that leads to just connections being formed. And then it also leads to things like, Hey, what’s your schedule? Like right now? Like, do you have any upcoming time because we might have this project and it could be good. And so that’s sort of all snowballs, kind of naturally. Yeah. Okay.

Iva Mikles

So you meet the people like online, then you like talk to them? Also on Skype? Okay. Yeah. Because sometimes I heard that most of the people just chat, you know, in the chat rooms, but also, when you are drawing, then you can create this kind of like a mastermind, when they are the same level and working on different projects. So you can give advice to each other?

Mike Henry

Yeah, that for sure. And then also, sometimes just, you know, you get kinda lonely, and it’s just nice to chat with anybody about anything, right? Like, it’s not even usually about art, you just start talking about what you watch on Netflix, you know, those types of things. And at the time, when I was a freelancer, to my, for part of it, my wife worked at a company. So she was gone all day, it was just me and the dog in the house. And so it’s like, okay, well, I need to talk to somebody or I’m gonna go crazy, you know? And so that’s sort of how it starts. Yeah. And

Iva Mikles

if we go back to the whole art career, have you ever felt like lost? Or did you have like, a hard time and when you were like, struggling, and if you had something like that, what was your kind of key takeaway kind of learning?

Mike Henry

Yeah, I mean, I’ve definitely had some of that. But, you know, my key takeaway, which is kind of unfortunate, because when when things when you look at things retrospectively, it’s very easy to give the advice Oh, things are gonna work out. Right. Like, because it happened to for me, but I have some people I’ve known where it doesn’t always work out super well. So the key advice that sort of impacted me is like, yeah, that seemed really freaky, or Yeah, that was really hard, or it was a lot to overcome, but everything worked out and look how great it is. But that’s not always the case for everybody. So I think that it’s really just more about always trying to just see this it’s like really hard to work because I wanted I wanted to say pretend like everything is going to be fine. But there is a little bit of sort of self convincing that you have to do when you’re in the Yeah, you have to believe that you’ll get there. Right. And I know that sometimes that drives people down unfortunate paths. But I think that you really have to, and you have to lean on whatever network you’ve built, and whatever friends you have, and family sometimes, and just make sure that you are putting in the effort you’re most passionate about, and that people you’re putting it where people can see it. I think that’s also a really big problem is that some people don’t expose themselves enough, they don’t mark it enough. Even if it’s just a little bit of marketing. We’re not talking about anything crazy, but just making sure that you’re putting yourself in front of people. And you’re also declaring to the world like, I want to do this thing. And then people see your positive attitude, and they want to work with you.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, definitely. So that was the thing you mentioned, right, that you post every day. And did you post on all social media now? Because I saw that, like everything every

Mike Henry

Yeah, yeah, over the years. I mean, I used to be more prolific than I am now, because I used to draw more work. And I used to come home and not have two kids. So I would just keep drawing and all that kind of stuff. So when I was a freelancer, I used to post almost daily on something like DeviantArt. Now I sort of do it, where it’s like, the output is less, but it’s spread wider. Because now with so much social media, people sort of subscribe to the social media that they’re most interested in, as opposed to going to the one place where everybody posts like Deviant Art, for better or for worse, at one time was the only place where you could find so many artists and they were posting so regularly, and it was easy to do. Now, when you ask somebody where they’re artists posted, it can be Instagram, it can be art station, it can even still be deviant art, it can be a lot of places. So nowadays, I try to post on as many things as it’s simple to post. Because if it gets too complicated, then I don’t want to be a part of it, basically. So yeah, I mean, it’s like, you know, YouTube is where I do my tutorial videos. But all the 2d stuff is like Pinterest, and Instagram, and DVR and art station, all the ones that are sort of easy to replicate. I have a Facebook fan page or whatever, like just as many things where it’s simple. That’s where I post it.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, yeah. And do you also have like LinkedIn and all of these platforms? That’s like when you want to apply for jobs? Because a lot of I think young artists, they don’t set up maybe this one. But I think it’s also quite important to have this work as well.

Mike Henry

Yeah, I think that, yeah, this sort of leads into my advice around, like, how to get work and how to be present, because I’m a hiring manager. And I have been for a number of years. And there’s the when I was very first starting out in the industry, I sat shoulder to shoulder with an art director, and he wanted me to help him review portfolios. And it was like, It was horrifying, though. Because what it is when you and your friends are all getting out of art school, and you’re like, Yeah, I’m gonna work at Pixar, it’s gonna be great. And then you don’t get a job and you don’t get a job and you don’t get a job. And you’re like, Well, how could this be like I’m doing everything that the school told me to do. But then you get in the room with an art director, and they click on an art link. And it takes more than 10 seconds for the website to load. And they just trashed the email and move to the next one. And it’s like, that’s because they have to look through 100 candidates and find the right person. And if you have a slow website, or a website that’s hard to use, or you didn’t put your art up first, you have a whole biography as your front page as opposed to getting to the art and all that, like it starts disqualifying you really, really quickly. So I think that LinkedIn is huge, because me as a hiring manager, I don’t really care about the education. And I don’t really care about whether or not a studio is particularly prestigious. But I’d like to see that you can hold down a job for like two years, and that you actually accomplished something when you were there. And if I can just go to your LinkedIn and see that. And then I can go to your portfolio and see how good of an artist you are. I just need to talk to you to find out if you’re a jerk or not. And then the job, you know what I mean? Like it’s that simple. Art is lucky in that way. Because there are a lot a lot of other professions where so much of whether or not you’re going to be talented has to happen during the interview process. But an art we get to sort of show all that stuff up front, which can also be bad, because if you’re not very good, you can get disqualified, like immediately without bringing your great personality and trying to win them over some way like that. But anyways, so LinkedIn is hugely important. And when people don’t have LinkedIn, it really frustrates me.

Iva Mikles

About like, Behance is that important that it’s more like for graphic design and these professions, maybe the art station is better for concept art and these kind of things, right?

Mike Henry

Yeah, well, the nice thing about I actually don’t really truly understand Behance that much. I see it when it’s like part of LinkedIn, and somebody’s got the link and I’ll click into it, because it’s a way to show art. But the thing about something like art station that I think is better, at least with my limited knowledge of Beyonce is that there’s more of a if you do something excellent you can rise to the top and so if I’m somebody like when I walk around the floor of the studio, I work at almost every artist always has art station up on the second monitor and they’re just refreshing it to see what cool stuff is coming up. And to me that’s huge because if I go to one of my art As desks to look at something, and they’re saying like, Oh, you gotta check out this guy, he keeps popping up on the front page of art station like now that person is in my periphery, and I might want to work with that person someday. And that, to me is why the ones that sort of surface, people who are getting respect from their peers in the industry, like that’s a huge tool. So that’s why I particularly like that one. Yeah,

Iva Mikles

perfect. They should go sit at my art station now. Yeah, it’s funny

Mike Henry

because I say this, because I always used art station as a bit of like a hiring tool or a portfolio review review tool. But I didn’t even set up my art station until like three months ago. So I just went on, and I took every one of the stuff that I’ve been doing on procreate, and I posted them. And then I started one project that’s just like old stuff. And I just threw in like, 50 images into that. And I was like, Okay, this is good. Let’s move on. Now, you know, now I keep it up to date. Yeah.

Iva Mikles

Because some companies like they asked you, okay, like, share your portfolio. But for example, for you, is it enough if the person has an art station and website and other social media? Or do you really require like, Okay, this is a portfolio layout.

Mike Henry

Yeah, I don’t really care about the portfolio stuff anymore. I mean, that feels a little old school. At this point, I think that there are maybe sub disciplines with an art that a portfolio might make sense, or at the very least, like, if it’s something like storyboarding, and I need to actually witness a chronology and I need to see it in a more portfolio setting, that’s pretty good. Or if I have something where it’s not really a portfolio, but if something exists more like a pitch packet, like that’s got to be put together well, and it’s got to have a nice design and all that type of stuff. For me, the there’s so many tools on the internet that allow you to have something portfolio ask, and like, for instance, if I get email from a recruiter, and I’m getting on a train, because I gotta go to the Berlin studio, and I have to download like a huge PDF, like that starts becoming problematic, I’d much rather just click a link and go to a website and solve it right there. You know, so to me, it’s all about, you know, we, as humans are getting our barrier to entry to enjoying anything is getting lower and lower, and lower and lower. And our threshold ours are, what’s our tolerance for it is getting lower and lower. So it’s like, you know, we are at this point with mobile games now, where if you have to turn the phone sideways, that’s too much friction for some players, right? It’s like, I don’t want to play that. Right. And it’s real, right. So I think that when we’re talking about like, I need someone who doesn’t care about me to care about me long enough to look at the art that I’ve done. That has to be the snappiest, fastest loading thing on the planet in order for them to not just bow out right away, you know?

Iva Mikles

Yeah, definitely. And then it also has to be some kind of consistency, like you have to know like, where to put this person like, is it like really strong at like, background painting or character design? Or, like when you look at the whole page, right?

Mike Henry

Yeah, yeah, totally. And I think that I believe in, you know, a lot of people also like to build some sort of an online presence, and they want to do it, because of getting a following. Or maybe some people actually have business goals, like they want to monetize or something. But I think that it’s important to do as many art related things as possible, regardless, because if let’s say, let’s say you’re somebody that’s only got 25 people subscribe to you on YouTube, and you have 100 people on Instagram, and it’s very small numbers, but you apply to a company and I go to your website, and I find out that you have 20 videos on YouTube, where you talk about your process, or like, for instance, yourself, you’re interviewing artists, like I care about those things, I care about the person participating in art, you know what I mean? And so I think that even if somebody has no monetary goal, or you know, Mark for success, that stuff is still super valuable to see. So I think that people should be doing that type of stuff as much as possible.

Iva Mikles

Oh, perfect. Do you have some kind of routines like for yourself, like something which contributes to your success, you know, like daily meditation or, or the meditation is meant to be the throwing or running around with kids?

Mike Henry

Yeah, I mean, I don’t know that I have, at this point in my life, I don’t have anything I would call like a consistent method, something that I sort of identified in myself a few, like when I was doing the freelance is that I have to really listen to my mood, and I have to listen to my inspiration, or I’m not going to be productive. That’s sort of my biggest thing. So that actually ends up resulting in no schedule, because I don’t do well with a schedule. If I’m told that I have to be somewhere to three o’clock every day. It just pisses me off. And I don’t really I’m not really successful with that. When I was a freelancer, I usually did the bulk of my work between 10pm and 4am. Because I’m a night owl, and I’d much rather be doing it then because that’s when the world gets quiet and I get to just focus on art and creating things. So as far as like a routine my routine is mostly around just sort of following the inspiration and trying to be as effective as I can be. And if I’m not going to be effective in something, try to find well am I better suited to be doing this right now instead of this and try to flex my time as much as possible. Somebody Yeah.

Iva Mikles

Because like some people do this, you know, the miracle morning where you like do five minutes of journaling, five minutes of meditation. So you kind of spend at least the morning for yourself.

Mike Henry

Sure. Yeah. I mean, that sounds really cool. But that would never work. For me that seems that seems very regimented. I would not be able to do that. The most thing that I would say that sort of like for me and me by myself is my commute. Because whenever I’m on my commute, I mean, it’s short here where I live now it’s 25 minutes, but when, in my last job, I had an hour and 15 minute commute, and it was just headphones and phone and I’m just chilled out and I blocked out the world. And I’m probably listening to a podcast or I’m just listening to my favorite music or something and looking at news, and that is my nice sort of reset time. That’s my like, prepare for the day kind of time. Yeah. Oh,

Iva Mikles

perfect. Yeah. And can you maybe recommend some, either the podcasts or books kind of something inspirational about you maybe get as a, you know, prison for some other artists? Sure, yeah.

Mike Henry

Um, the podcasts I recommend, I’m pretty sure everybody on the planet listens to Stuff You Should Know, at this point, because that’s a really good podcast, they just sort of pick a topic every time and they cover it. And I’m a big Kevin Smith fan. So I listened to Hollywood, Babylon, and smodcast, and all of those. I’m a big punk rock fan. So I listened to Mike Herreros. new podcast. He’s the lead singer of MX px. And I That’s That’s it for that. And then as far as books go, I think that even though it’s super dry, I think that creativity Inc. By

Iva Mikles

yeah, I forgot the name as well. But it also is an ebook. It’s also recorded, so you can listen to it too, right?

Mike Henry

That’s exactly right. And that’s what I used to do a lot, because eBooks are obviously awesome for drawing, because you can just zone out and listen to it. I also highly recommend Steve Martin’s born standing up, it’s about him and his career. And I think that one of my favorite things to do is just take any type of creative profession and try to connect parallels and try to find out like, I can learn a lot from artists. But can I also learn something from a stand up comedian or an actor or a singer or something like that and incorporate it into what I do?

Iva Mikles

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, definitely. That’s a really good point. Because I’m also always trying to find also either the business books or like, either the self help books, or both is the seven habits of efficient people that can apply to efficient artists, right, and all of that.

Mike Henry

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Iva Mikles

Oh, perfect, then then let’s talk about the future. And that would be like, some of my last questions. And I would like to know, where would you kind of imagine yourself project wise in like, five to 10 years, you know, what would be your dream scenario? Do you want to do like books or more games or comic books?

Mike Henry

Yeah, I mean, I sort of I like to try new things. I’ve been mostly in video games, my whole career. But I’ve been able to dabble in action figure design or animation stuff, or you know, things all over the place. And I probably like to try getting out of games at some point, simply because I’d like to get to something that’s maybe a little bit more story driven, and can just be about story and can be about characters. One of the one of the downsides of engineering, or excuse me, one of the downsides of video games is that with the engineering and game design, and all that it’s really creative, and it’s really collaborative, and all these departments have to work together to pull something off. But you can also have certain aspects of art sacrifice, just as much as Game Design and Engineering has to sacrifice for other things to be done. And it’d be really dope to just work on something where that isn’t a concern for just one project. You know, it’s just about does this convey the right emotion? Did we capture the right? Just character? And point did we tell the plot correctly? Like all those types of things without having to worry about? Are we under a polycount? Limit? Is the lighting going to break the game? Did we make sure that we incorporated something game design wanted in this, you know, that type of thing? Yeah, if the industry right, and all of that. Yeah, yeah. And as far as like a dream project, like, I think that I’d loved, I would always, I’m a little scared whenever I even just draw something that is something from something that inspired me. So like, some of my favorite games, or my favorite animations, or whatever. But it would be really cool to take maybe one of the dormant ones and bring it back to life and try to reboot it in some way. Because when I do are I like just sort of doing casual reboots where I just sort of redesign a character or something.

Iva Mikles

Oh, yeah. Because it’s also a really good idea if you don’t know what to draw, right? If someone has artblock, and they just like, want to do something new. That might be a good structure, okay. And it will be about like, really far, far future. And I would like to know, what would you like to be remembered for in like, two years or more?

Mike Henry

Yeah, what would I like to be remembered for? I don’t know. I think I think that without without that being too specific, I just like to be a part of some sort of really interesting IP at some point that just lives on, you know, like, when when now that I’m in my mid 30s, and I have kids, I’m so happy that some of the stuff that I grew up with is either being like really long rereleased or it’s always sort of been around so I can show my kids like, Ghostbusters cartoon and things like that. And it’s it’s accessible. I would love to just be a part of something that’s like that. So that like if my kids, kids are watching video of something that I created during my career like that, that would be awesome.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, definitely. Because then they can enjoy and play that with you or draw with you, or are they already throwing with you? Or they’re too young for that?

Mike Henry

Yeah, no, they are my older son. He’s going to be five in January, he draws on the iPad, he uses procreate. And that’s really fun for me. And he’s gotten to the point now to where he’s actually drawing recognizable things. Because a lot of the time it’s like, kind of a mess. And then he’s like, Oh, it’s a it’s usually something from Final Fantasy. So he’ll be like, oh, yeah, it’s a Tonberry. And I’m like, okay, sure, yeah. But then just the other day, he drew like a flower. And he’s like, Dad Look, and I was like, bats a flower. And he’s like, yeah, so finally, we’re getting there now, which is really fun, and super just exciting, and all that. So.

Iva Mikles

So these new generation, I don’t think they’re intimidated by the digital technologies anymore. So digital drawing, it will be like, whatever.

Mike Henry

And I’m a big proponent of technology. And I think that it’s actually really important to get it in kids hands young, because as we just progress, that’s going to be their life. And that’s their tools for success in the future. So my my two year old, he can use an iPad better than my my parents can. And it’s, it’s pretty astonishing when you see how quickly they learn things. And not to mention that the technology is allowing them to learn things really rapidly to like, they have a lot of educational stuff. And then a lot of tools like being able to do art and all that. It’s just awesome. Like, what a wonderful time, like, dude, like, I always tell people that my videos that I do for YouTube, I create the art on my iPad, I export the video and edit it on my iPad, I record the audio on my iPad, and then I post it to YouTube on my iPad, like I can do the whole thing just sitting on the couch, and to have that power when you’re five, and then it’s just gonna get like more and more powerful as you get older. Like, that’s awesome. There’s no excuse to not make cool stuff now, you know? Exactly. So

Iva Mikles

people don’t have to be lazy, and they just, you know, create more stuff and just be inspired and inspire others. Right? That’s right. That’s exactly right. Yeah, definitely no biggie. Before we say goodbye, you can share, like last piece of advice or key takeaway, and then we will slowly finish.

Mike Henry

Sure, yeah, I mean, I guess if I could sum up everything, everything and everything. The one thing is just when it comes to the creative life, or the creative profession, or whatever it is, just be open to everything. I think that that’s the most important thing. I think that inspiration can strike anywhere, and it’s about being receptive to it, otherwise, you’re never going to acknowledge it. I think that people, I’ve fallen into the trap before too, especially when I’m young. But it’s really easy to get a big strong opinion about things and discount things and be a critic, as well as trying to be in the industry that you’re in. And I think that if you try to, you can still be critical and have things that you like or dislike, but there’s even the things you dislike, you’re going to have something very important that you might be able to learn from it. And it’s about being receptive to all things and you can find that channeled into your work at some point.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, yeah, definitely. I totally agree. And, yeah, thank you so much, again, for being here and sharing your journey and all the awesome tips and insights. Right on. Thanks for having me. I’m really happy. My pleasure. And thanks, everyone for joining today and see you in the next episode. Hope you guys enjoy this interview. You can find all the resources mentioned in this episode at artsideoflife.com. Just type a kid’s name in the search bar. There is also a little freebie waiting for you so go check it out. If you enjoy this episode, please leave a review on iTunes, hopefully five stars so I can read and inspire more people like you. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Art Side of Life bootcamp because I post new interview every single workday. If you want to watch the interviews, head over to artsideoflife.com/youtube. Thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget to inspire each other. And I will talk to you guys in the next episode. Bye.

Announcer

Thanks for listening to the Art Side of Life podcast at www.artsideoflife.com

Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.

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